What is genre? What is constitutes as a modern view onliterature? What is to explore? What is a fairy tale? Most importantly whatqualifies as good motifs in a fairy tale? These are questions I am interestedin, because up until two months ago I had seen fairy tales as fantasy that wasmeant to take me back to my childhood. I am sure that when I was young I sawthem as that part fantastic world I could be part of. I never saw fairy talesas a genre with common functions much less with motifs intended to have a moralmeaning or a lesson for children to learn. Vladimir Propp outlines on “Fairy Tale Transformation”argues that the motifs of fairy tale doesn’t necessarily explains its form. Hebelieves that in order to understand how fairy tales are put together isimportant to understand the commonality of functions within the genre. Proppbelieves that all tales have a common structure; that there are severalrecognizable functions, which may be fulfilled by various character types ormotifs; and that these functions, when they are present, always occur in thesame sequence, although there may be some repetition of particular sequences,as may be seen, for instance, in the threefold repetition of journeys or testsin many tales. Propp identified 31 distinct functions, which heargues dictated the structure of the fairy tales.
Ann Sexton, a feminist critic, unlike Propp, believes thatthe motif within the fairy tales is what is important to explore. I, like Ann Sexton believe that it isimportant to understand the motif of the 31 functions that Propp proposes as acommonality in fairy tales. I believe that these functions cannot be outlinewithout asking what is the motif of each one of them, what is their purpose inthe fairy tale? This is where I find myself trying to learn something I haveyet to discover. For instance, Snow White is a fairy tale that talks about abeautiful young girl who gets spell from her wicked stepmother and a youngprince comes to break the spell. According to Propp, what would be important tolook at when reading this fairy tale is to see the functions that dictate thestructure of the fairy tale. Sexton, on the other hand makes an interesting suggestion about thisfairy tale. She chooses to change the end of the original story. Instead ofhaving a happy ever she writes a more realistic ending “Snow White held court,rolling her china-blue doll eyes open and shut and sometimes referring to hermirror as women do” (9). This ending changes the original story, thereforeshows the truth meaning behind the story according to Sexton. This ending tellschildren that all young girls will turn into wicked, old women wishing to bebeautiful their whole lives. That being vain is their destiny. Sexton feminist belief is that bychanging the ending of the story she will then make clear the real messageintended in the fairy tale. However, if Snow White is read without Sextonfeminist perspective the fact that Snow White gets through the forest andovercomes with courage her adversities in her journey can teach children to bestrong and courageous.
This teaches young girls that the wicked stepmother wasunhappy because she wanted to have something forever. The message in tale is toplant the seed in children that nothing is forever, but one’s beautifulpersonality. The wicked mother was vain and selfish the entire story. Shealways wanted to be the most beautiful. Snow White never talks about her beautyand that’s why everybody likes her because she is humble. She shows her truebeauty by talking and trying to be nice to everybody around her. She lives withthe dwarfs in which time she matures and turns into a young women. The dwarfs act as the parent figure inher life and like in Sleeping Beauty they have a better knowledge of how evilthe vanity of a women could be and advice her not to talk to strangers. Shedoes not listen and unfortunately gets a spell. Her disobedience takes her to her misfortune just like inSleeping Beauty. How can this meaning be correct? I have trouble blaming SnowWhite for getting a spell. Her innocence could be the cause of her misfortune.If Propp believes that there are 31 functions and the motif is a result of thefunction, should we then change completely the 31 functions so we can havedifferent motifs? Or should we do what Sexton did with Snow White alter thestories already written and highlight to children what the meaning is?